Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas in Bethlehem

Some more-or-less random YouTube clips mostly of this year's news coverage ...

Thousands in Bethlehem for traditional Christmas procession. Thousands of Palestinians and tourists flock into the West Bank city of Bethlehem to mark Christmas in the "little town" where many believe Jesus Christ was born. The traditional Christmas procession headed by the Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal marched through the city, as tourists and Palestinians -- Muslims and Christians alike -- lined the route to welcome it. Duration: 00:50

Thousands flock to Bethlehem for Christmas AFP story - scout bands playing bagpipes

The scouts bands, from Ramallah and other West Bank cities as well as Bethlehem, march in parades for Christmas, Easter and the big Muslim holidays, according to a BBC News audio slideshow from March 2010: "The scouts and marching bands are a legacy of the British mandate from 1920 to 1948, but it is the Scottish cultural connection that now resonates with some Palestinians, who see historical parallels with their own struggle against Israeli occupation."

Published on Dec 24, 2012

Midnight Mass Celebrated in Bethlehem. Midnight mass was celebrated at the Church of St. Catherine, in Bethlehem, the West Bank. The church sits next to the Church of the Nativity, which is built above the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

Faithful in Bethlehem as Christmas mass urges peace. Thousands of people stream into the West Bank city of Bethlehem to mark Christmas, as the Latin Patriarch urges "men of good will" to seek peace in the Middle East.Duration: 00:59

General background on Bethlehem, tourism and Christmas on the Jewish News One TV channel:

Here in Bethlehem, the Christmas season is a highpoint of the year. Thousands of visitors travel to the Holy Land to celebrate the holiday in one of Christianity's most revered sites. number shrinking - iraeli military control - bleak economic prospects

Wynne Mancini of JN1 cites iraeli military control - bleak economic as reasons for exodus of Christians from Bethlehem, which is now only about 30 percent Christian.

Din klara sol går åter opp - Swedish hymn (with link to sheet music in D in an old songbook)

Nordiska psalmodikonförbundet

DrFrax | September 27, 2010

Din klara sol går åter opp ... ett smakprov från Nordiska psalmodikonförbundets CD-skiva Psalmer och visor på psalmodikon inspelad i Stjärnhov i juli 2010. Kan beställas från NPsF hemsida www.npsalmodikonforbundet.se CD-skiva Psalmer och visor på psalmodikon inspelad i Stjärnhov i juli 2010. Kan beställas från NPsF hemsida www.npsalmodikonforbundet.se

Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has Psalmbok has text and melody line only. A PDF file is available in Projekt Runeberg from the Svensk söndagsskolsångbok för hem, skolor och barngudstjänster (1929). In four-part harmony in D.

Text, melody (in MIDI file ) and embedded YouTube video on Stora Nätpsalmboken 2012 - Soli Deo Gloria weblog.

Text (=SvPs1986 nr 176): Johan Olof Wallin 1814 (35 år), bearb.

Musik: Tysk 1710

Denna psalm var under många år på 1800- och 1900-talet förknippad med skolornas morgonböner. Dess korthet och melodins enkelhet gjorde den passande för ändamålet, men den något pliktbetonade situationen har kanske inte bidragit till att göra den helt älskad. Tredje strofen löd tidigare: O, må jag så med flit och dygd / och måtta i begär / än kunna glädjas i ditt skygd / var dag, du mig beskär. Psalmkommitténs fina bearbetning kan förhoppningsvis bidra till att psalmen fortlever och verkligen sjungs med "glädje i Gud."

English version on CyberHymnal website (at www.hymntime.com) under title "Again Thy Glorious Sun Doth Rise." First verse:
Again Thy glorious sun doth rise,
I praise Thee, O my Lord;
With courage, strength, and hope renewed,
I touch the joyful chord.
Three more verses. No. 545 in the Augustana Synod's 1925 Hymnal.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Holy Land (1 of ___): Church of the Nativity ... with tangents on Mark Twain and a Reformation-era Christmas carol

We do not think, in the holy places; we think in bed, afterwards, when the glare, and the noise, and the confusion are gone, and in fancy we resisit along, the solemn monuments of the past, and summon the phantom pageants of an age that has passed away. -- Mark Twain, "Innocents Abroad" (393).
Last month when I was in Bethlehem, I decided I'd break out in uncontrollable laughter the next time I heard the Christmas carol "O little town of Bethlehem / How still we see thee lie." Well, we sang it today in church. I was able to maintain decorum, other than a broad smile and some furtive whispering back in the choir loft. But it wasn't easy.

So, you're asking, what was so funny?

Well, this: Twenty-first-century Bethlehem is a bustling Arab city of 25,000, part of a metro area that also includes Shepherds Field or Beit Sahour (population 12,000) and the Dheisheh refugee camp (population estimated at 13,000). When I was there, Bethlehem didn't strike me as lying very still, and its "deep and dreamless sleep" was punctuated before dawn by the day's first Muslim call to prayer, followed by the nearly incessant crowing of roosters outside our hotel window until it was fully light.

"O little town of Bethlehem / How still we see thee lie"

Now I did have Christmas carols running through my head. That omes with the territory when you're in Bethlehem, especially if you write articles about hymnody and folk music. But "O Little Town of Bethlehem" wasn't one of them (even though I do like Ralph Vaughan Williams' melody FOREST GREEN that the Brits sing the text to). The song that's been running through my head instead is an old northern European carol Et barn er født i betlehem (a child is born in Bethlehem). The song is very old, with a Latin version going back to the earliest days of the Reformation in Germany. In 1820 Nicolai F.S. Grundtvig translated it into Danish, and his translation is the basis for versions in all the Scandinavian languages:

Et barn er født i Betlehem
Ti gleder seg, Jerusalem.
Alleluja, alleluja!
An English paraphrase, quite loosely translated but true to the overall sense of Grundtvig's Danish, is available on Douglas D. Anderson's Hymns and Carols of Christmas website:
1. A Child is Born in Bethlehem,
in Bethlehem;
And gladness fills Jerusalem,
Allelujah! Allelujah!

2. A lowly manger shelters Him,
This Holy Boy.
God's angels sing above with joy.
Allelujah! Allelujah!

3. We now give thanks eternally,
To God, the Holy Trinity,
Allelujah! Allelujah!

In 1993 the noted Norwegian singer Sondre Bratland included Et barn er født i betlehem on his CD Rosa fra Betlehem, recorded in the Church of the Nativity. His vocal was backed by Knut Reiersrud on synthesizer, Iver Kleive on guitar, Paolo Vinaccia on hand drums and Palestinian artist Suheil Khoury on flute. The Palestinian Boys' Choir (Palestinisk barnekor) of Ramallah sang the chorus.

But what makes the CD special is the church. Its acoustics were magnificant. Visitors have mixed feelings about the church itself. least according to the reactions posted by vistors. ""This is a tough one to rate," begins one of the reviews on the TripAdvisor.com website.

High altar with Orthodox iconostasis

The review, by JoeOB of Denver, gave it a rating of 3 oout of 5 possible. "I'd like to tell you about the great religious experience you will have but I have to tell you it's very tough to have those moments here because of the sheer mass of people moving thru," he said. "As a tourist the beauty of the church and the special chance to see the birthplace of Christ is memorable, however ..." The mass of pushing, shoving people also irritated 2007sweet16, of Orlando, who said, "I had barely one second to press my camera button to take a picture before I was summoned to "MOVE IT and to GET OUT LADY."

Most reviews mentioned the crowds. But they also mentioned what many saw as the grandeur of the place. Mark G, of Chalfont, Pa., gave it top rating (5 of 5). "Bethlehem is very poor but as you approach the Church of the Nativity you begin to feel that you're in a special place<' he said. [T]his is a very old church and not like any church you'll see as you tour European cathedrals, this is much smaller and to imagine all that has happened on this spot is mind boggling! ...

Basilica (note opening over 4th-century mosaic at left)

More than a hundred years ago Mark Twain, in "Innocents Abroad," had the same mixed reaction: "I touch, with reverent finger, the actual spot where the infant Jesus lay, but I think - nothing." He explained:

You cannot think in this place any more than you can in any other in Palestine that would be likely to inspire reflection. Beggars, cripples and monks compass you about, and make you think only of backsheesh when you would rather think of something more in keeping with the character of the spot. (392)
"Baksheesh," according to Wikipedia, is an act of charitable giving, a tip, a bribe or a combination of the three. It was much more prevalent in 1867, when Mark Twain visited the area. A few of the 21st-century tourists who posted to the Trip Advisor mentioned free-lance guides who worked for tips, but more spoke of how pleasant and knowledgeable their Palestinian tour guides were said.

Even visitors like luvs2travel_0107 of Nashville, who complained of "rude and pushy" crowds at the Church of the Nativity, added, "It is total chaos. But having said that, it is a special place. So i guess trying to put any kind of restrictions on it, would be hard."

The Church of the Nativity dates from 326 CE, and Orthodox, Armenian and Latin Catholic clergy have been have been adding devotional art ever since. It was crowded and noisy when we were there in November, and some of the art – a lot of it – seemed kitschy to our eyes, a kaleidoscope of different styles and periods.

We stood in line, five or six deep, for a good hour in the outer basilica. But it wasn't like standing in line anywhere else I've ever had that dubious privilege. The curent building was first erected in the sixth century, and has been added to or refurbished several times since then. Visible through a hole in the floor is a mosaic (see picture at left above) that belonged to the original shrine erected in the 300s by St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

In Illinois, we get excited when archeologists turn up a teacup dating from the 1830s. In the basilica of the Nativity, there were pillars, paintings and mosiacs still in use that date to the Middle Ages and the late Roman Empire. (I learned later there's even a mosaic showing St. Olav of Norway, although I didn't see it.) The sense of history in Bethlehem was palpable.

In front of us was a group of Russian or Ukranian pilgrims. At least they spoke what sounded like a Slavic language, and they kept pushing and shoving like they were elbowing onto a Moscow city bus. At the same time, you could sense in their faces they were pilgrims, not tourists, as they bought devotional candles in an alcove off the high altar (see picture at right) and prayed in the grotto beneath the high altar that marks the traditional site, marked by a silver star in the marble floor, of the manger and of Christ's birth.

Like so many of the major holy sites, the whole experience left some of our group grumbling about money-changers in the temple and feeling disappointed.

But …

But, in a word, it was magnificent. And you had a sense of the mystery of incarnation, of the divine and the temporal, the eternal and grubby day-to-day reality - of the "holy boy" sheltered in a "lowly manger" down in the grotto while "God's angels sing above with joy" that Grundtvig sang of - and a sense it's been going on for 1,500 years in that same building.

A footnote (or two). Quotations from "Innocents Abroad" are from Chapter 55 of the Wordsworth Classics edition, edited by Stuart Hutchinson (London, 2010). The song is very old, with a Latin version going back to ___th-century Germany. It is very popular in Scandinavia, and is sung to different melodies. In addition to the tune Sondre Bratland followed, by 19th-century hymnist and folk song collector Ludvig Lindeman, you commonly hear:

Saturday, December 01, 2012

"Love Cannot Be Silenced" - Catholic sisters' song and (almost but not quite yet viral) YouTube video get a plug in the New York Times

A song by Sister Kathy Sherman, CSJ, of the Congregation of St. Joseph, LaGrange Park in southwest suburban Cook County, got a boost in an article in Saturday's New York Times. The story, by Times religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein. is pretty glowing.

But, first, the song. It has a nice upbeat, post-Vatican II folk music-y feel to it. Very singable. It could easily be by Marty Haugen or the St. Louis Jesuits.

Here's the YouTube video, with this note appended: "Photos are from prayer services, vigils, peaceful demonstrations, Masses, and other gatherings in support of women religious in the United States in May and June of 2012 in response to the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith's assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and various other investigations and criticisms of Sisters in the U.S.

The Congregation of St. Joseph's Ministry of the Arts website at La Grange has Sister Kathy's most recent CD Love Cannot Be Silenced available for $12.95 (plus shipping and handling). She has several other CDs in print.

Laurie Goodstein, the Times' religion reporter, gives this account:

Last spring, when the Vatican issued a harsh assessment of the group representing a majority of American nuns accusing them of “serious doctrinal problems,” Sister Sherman, 60, said she responded the way she always does when she feels something deeply. She wrote a song.

The words popped into her head two days after the Vatican’s condemnation, as she was walking down the hallway in her order’s ministry center, feeling hurt and angry: “Love cannot be silenced,” she thought. “It never has. It never will.” She went into the center’s dining room and tried out the lyrics on some of her sisters. They liked the message.

“Love Cannot be Silenced” became an anthem, not just for the nuns but also for laypeople who turned out for vigils in front of churches and cathedrals across the country this year to support them. In a voice sweet and resolute, Sister Sherman sang, “We are faithful, loving and wise, dancing along side by side, with a Gospel vision to lead us and Holy Fire in our eyes” — a lyric that evokes the nuns’ novel forging of spirit with steel.

The lyrics, which are available with the YouTube video and several other places on the Web, are:
Love cannot be silenced. It never has. It never will. Let justice roll like a river from the oceans to the hills.

Rise up Sisters. Rise up. And stand with you your heads held high. We are faithful, loving, and wise. Dancing along side by side. With a Gospel vision to lead us. And Holy Fire in our eyes.

Sister Kathy has written a number of songs. Earlier this year, "at the height of the political vitriol in the last presidential election," she wrote a song she titled “This Is the America I Believe In.” It's also on YouTube:

Sister Kathy's note on the song:

"This Is the America I Believe In" was written in response to the great divide that presently exists in the political landscape of our country. At times, the contention between candidates is both sad and disheartening.I had been remembering my days of singing protest songs during the 1960s. Music was integral to the work of justice in those years. It was important for artists, dreamers and activists to speak up and out and to remind the country of what we hold dear-the values that gave birth to our wonderful nation. It still is. Reading the signs of the times informs my vocation as a composer and lyricist. Engaging with the world and the pain and suffering that beset it become the fertile soil for dreams and songs to emerge. We are presently enmeshed in the great American political process of choosing the president of the United States. This privilege is, perhaps, one that many of us take for granted. The seriousness of our time calls us to prayerfully discern when choosing leadership in any arena and when making important decisions that impact the common good. Our shared love for America transcends political affiliations. That is the message of "This Is the America I Believe In."
So far the New York Times story has gotten a mention in a Catholic blog in New York City under the headline "The zinging nun: sister writes anthem against Vatican rebuke." The blog, which links to the video without comment, is by Greg Kandra, a Roman Catholic deacon serving the Diocese of Brooklyn. A longtime broadcast journalist, he writes a blog called "The Deacon's Bench" on the Patheos website offering "global dialogue on religion and spirituality through responsible, moderated discussions on critical issues across religious traditions' and "commentary on current events from a wide range of viewpoints."